I’d like to add to the often quoted phrase that “we are what we eat.” I also think “we are what we read and sometimes write.”
In 2005, when the idea of writing a book first appeared in my head, I decided to start with a memoir. Looking back, that made sense. Start with what you know, right? My book, The Education of a Teacher (Including Dirty Books and Pointed Looks), is a piece of my heart. I’d spent thirty-four years teaching high school English in a small town, and at that point I’d taught another eight years in college. Teaching was all I wanted to do. It was a calling, a passion, a love affair. I loved, loved, loved it. The prospect of retirement pleased the part of me that would have time to read books once again, but I needed something more. After writing, marketing, and selling that teaching memoir while I worked at the college level, I decided that I’d like to try my hand at fiction once I retired. But what to write?
All my life I have read and loved mysteries. As a child I read the typical mystery list which included Nancy Drew, Judy Bolton, and the Hardy Boys. Then I graduated to all of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries and some Jules Verne that hinted at mystery. (The Mysterious Island was one of my favorites.) I also loved historical fiction and one of my favorites in that category was The Witch of Blackbird Pond. It’s no wonder I ended up graduating from college with a history major, English minor. So the first reason I love mysteries is that they have been part of my enjoyment of reading since I was very young. They take me away from the mundane present.
I also love to figure out problems. I’m a list-maker, a problem-solver, and a former teacher and mother of young children. In both the teacher/mother roles, I spent a great deal of time solving problems. Often I read a mystery cover to cover because I want to find out how it comes out, and I couldn’t figure it out before the writer explained the outcome. Then I want to go back and look for the clues I didn’t notice because the writer was clever enough to hide them in plain sight.
In recent years, one of my favorite mysteries is The Chatham School Affair by Robert H. Cook. He creates the world of a private school and a young student who is the son of the head master. Into that world comes a terrifying, evil event. Cook is very clever in giving the reader pieces of the jigsaw puzzle here and there. He flawlessly combines past, present, and future in his narrative, and he does so seamlessly so the reader is constantly left guessing the details of this terrible event. Only at the end does the reader see how it all fits together. Masterful!
My reading inclinations also move in the direction of mysteries that create another era. David Morrell’s Murder as a Fine Art and Inspector of the Dead create the mid-1800s in London with a rich, well-researched setting and intriguing mysteries. The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett is a beautifully researched story that goes back and forth between the present day and Shakespearean London. I loved that story with a mystery at its heart. Those are books that I couldn’t put down, and I hated to leave that period of time. I’ve rarely been interested in current-day settings. Always, I want to go back in time and read about an era I never experienced. However, I also like my creature comforts, so drafty castles are much more intriguing if I read about them rather than live in them. If the era I’m reading about has a mystery at its core, I love it.
I also enjoy mysteries because they show us—at arm’s length—a darker side of human nature. I think, living in a small town, I have a curiosity about this kind of person, but I’d like to explore his psychology from my easy chair between the pages of a book. It’s much less bother when I don’t have to worry about weapons in real life. I may research them for my Endurance Mysteries, but it’s strictly for the purpose of my books. Counting the third book that I’m currently writing, I’ve researched shootings, stabbings, and poisons. Obviously, I like equal opportunity murderers that use a variety of weapons.
If I am typical, I think this theory, “we are what we read/write,” holds true for why readers and writers are drawn to their particular book choices.
What do you think? Is this true of you too?